The Night Beat: Name That Term

Good evening.

In honor of the new Defense Department guidance on special access programs, an esoteric topic that is really important because it concerns the secrets that government keeps from people, each headline tonight will be fashioned as a SAP nickname. Each "first word" of the nickname is an actual first word that's been used before; at least two of the nicknames below are (or were) real, but I won't tell you which ones. Have fun.

CRUCIAL PLAYER: President Obama tomorrow intends to use his recess appointment authority tomorrow to put Donald Berwick in place as administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid at the Department of Health and Human Services.  Dan Pfeiffer, White House comms director, writes on the White House blog: "....[w]ith the agency facing new responsibilities to protect seniors' care under the Affordable Care Act, there's no time to waste with Washington game-playing. That's why tomorrow the President will use a recess appointment to put Dr. Berwick at the agency's helm and provide strong leadership for the Medicare program without delay."

COPPER AZURE? It's going to be interesting to see how the White House justifies keeping the GAO's nose of CIA secret programs now that the Defense Department has opened to the door to more GAO oversight.

Under the new SAP rules, Congress has more oversight authority, and more members of Congress and staff can access details about secret programs. But in order to do so, according to the new rules, they're going to have to fill out a program access request and undergo a counterintelligence polygraph for EACH SAP they desire access to. The staff director and minority staff director for the defense and intelligence committees can designate other staffers on their committees, exceeding the limit of one that had been previously imposed. Note: the new rule says "defense" and "intelligence" committees. There is no "defense" committee; there are armed services committees and appropriates subcommittees with defense, but unless the existence of a "Senate Defense Committee" is itself classified, there's some confusion here. For "waived" SAPs -- those programs designated as uber-top secret by the SecDef or the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the rules haven't changed. (An example of a waived SAP: the technological capabilities of the USS Jimmy Carter, which does a variety of spooky underseas cable-tapping work for the Navy.) 

Another change: the it's up to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, who has oversight of the SAPs, to give "guidance of employment of force" to the combatant commanders -- the orders of battles, a blow-by-blow of "if this happen, this is how we would respond" automatically. Say Iran tries to counter a blockade, there is a SAP that instructs various combatant commanders how to respond. And now, the USD(P) is the "oversight authority" for those types of things.

A secret about the SAPs: most of the security officers who administer the programs are contractor personnel, something the Secretary of Defense is trying to change.

AGILE ELEPHANT: RNC chairman Michael Steele is still hanging on to his job. He canceled a planned appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival tomorrow; the RNC hasn't said why yet. It's next to impossible for Steele to be be forced out, which is why he is being pressured so heavily to resign. But he has no intention of resigning. Still, the stories are like a death by a thousand cuts. Steele will have virtually no support if he runs for re-election. To watch: whether the RNC starts to give money to the National Republican Congressional Committee to expand the playing field. Whether it reverses its decision to devote less resources to redistricting. Whether it restores money to its field program and microtargeting efforts (states are doing a lot of contracting now to get the level of GOTV targeting they're used to.) A Steele trip to Colorado Republican HQ on Thursday is still on.

Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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